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Live in Lover Law
As briefly discussed in our article titled “Modification of Alimony: Modification Generally,” one basis for a claim for the modification of alimony in Georgia is what is colloquially referred to as the “live in lover” statute. According to the Official Code of Georgia concerning the modification of alimony:
Subsequent to a final judgment of divorce awarding periodic payment of alimony for the support of a spouse, the voluntary cohabitation of such former spouse with a third party in a meretricious relationship shall also be grounds to modify provisions made for periodic payments of permanent alimony for the support of the former spouse. As used in this subsection, the word "cohabitation" means dwelling together continuously and openly in a meretricious relationship with another person, regardless of the sex of the other person. …
O.C.G.A. § 19-6-19(b).
The practical impact of this statute authorizes, or gives, a former spouse obligated to pay alimony the necessary foundation to seek a downward modification in alimony if the party receiving the alimony payments is living with a third party and engaging in a sexual relationship with that third party. Reiter v. Reiter, 258 Ga. 101 (1988). In order to successfully assert a claim for the modification of alimony based on this law, the relationship between the alimony recipient must not only be meretricious, but the relationship must also be “continuous and open.” Id. This means that an obligated spouse’s alimony modification action may not be based on short term or periodic romantic relations carried on by the recipient spouse. The relationship must be a live in lover scenario – hence the nickname “live in lover” statute.
Although the live in lover law authorizes a former spouse to seek the modification of periodic alimony, even if the former spouse seeking the modification successfully proves his or her case, there is no absolute right to the modification of alimony, because the decision whether to modify an alimony award is within the discretion of the judge presiding over the matter. Berman v. Berman, 253 Ga. 298 (1984). This is important to note, because under Georgia law, if a former spouse initiates a modification action based on this law but does not prevail “the petitioner shall be liable for reasonable attorney's fees incurred by the respondent for the defense of the action.” O.C.G.A. § 19-6-19(b).
As with several other provisions of Georgia law concerning alimony, child custody and other issues of family law, the parties to the divorce action may waive the right to seek a modification of alimony based on this statute by agreement. Carlos v. Lane, 275 Ga. 674 (2002).